As you may already know, a countertop microwave is unique in that you sit this cooking appliance on top of a kitchen counter, unlike its drawer or over-the-range counterparts. But quite a variety can be found even within the category of countertop microwaves—for example, some are simple and no-frills, while others are high-tech.
Though many of us sometimes take them for granted, countertop microwaves are actually a helpful addition to your kitchen. They do more than just heat food; they can defrost, keep food warm, and are programmed to cook certain foods easily, like popcorn, leftovers, and frozen meals.
When looking for a countertop microwave, there are a few features to consider. On the technical side, the size of your microwave matters—anything too big or small may not work in your kitchen. Then there is design; sleek, modern, and old-school-style microwaves all have the latest technology to fit your needs. Finally, consider additional cooking capabilities: Some countertop microwaves can grill, some have a sensor-cook ability, and others double as convection ovens. With the right balance of style, power, and features, the Panasonic Microwave Oven with Inverter Technology is our favorite model.
Panasonic 1.2 Cubic Feet 1200-Watt SN686SR/S Microwave with Inverter
What We Love: Sleek exterior, small footprint for the power, heats food quickly and evenly, intuitive control panel
What We Don't Love: A bit loud while it cooks, some say clock is hard to read
Inverter technology delivers evenly cooked food by providing a stream of power in all directions. This means warming it up evenly and thoroughly, eliminating those dreaded hot spots.
Made of aluminum and stainless steel, this countertop microwave has inverter technology to cook your food all the way through, and this includes a Turbo setting for faster defrosting. You’ll also find that this 1200-watt microwave has other appealing features, such as its Genius Sensor, which reads the amount of steam from the food you're cooking and automatically adjusts its modes (such as cook or defrost), power level, and times.
A keep-warm feature, delay-start feature, 14 auto-cook functions, and child-lock feature round out its specifications.
"I love this microwave. It was a major upgrade from the small one I had for 10 years. It is gigantic so it fits anything you can imagine, it heats up leftovers so easily and evenly using just the one-touch Sensor Reheat button, and the defrost setting really does an amazing job of defrosting frozen proteins without cooking them around the edges like most microwaves." — Eric Handelsman, Senior Vice President, Dotdash Meredith Food & Drink
Price at time of publish: $220
Dimensions (LxWxH): 22 x 18 x 14 inches | Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet | Power: 1200 watts
Danby 0.7 cu ft. Countertop Microwave with Convenience Cooking Controls
What We Love: Compact, easy to use, operates quietly
What We Don't Love: Glass turntable sometimes becomes misaligned, power output below 1000 watts
Everyone has a budget, and a lot of microwaves can get into the triple digits for a quality one. The Danby countertop microwave, though, is all about quality on a budget.
This 23-pound microwave, which includes a 10-inch turntable, has all the basic necessities for preparing a meal. There’s an express cook option that can cook your food in minutes, an auto-defrost feature, and a child lock to ensure younger children are safe while this microwave is in use. All in all, there are 6 presets (including pizza and frozen vegetables), a timer, and an “add 30 seconds” option under the LED display.
This 700-watt microwave is perfect for people living in a small space and looking for a no-frills option without all those extra features that will remain unused.
Price at time of publish: $94
Dimensions (LxWxH): 17.3 x 13.1 x 10.2 inches | Capacity: 0.7 cubic feet | Power: 700 watts
Toshiba EC042A5C-SS 1.5 Cu. Ft. Convection Microwave Oven
What We Love: Sleek exterior and spacious interior, can do to types of cooking in one, quick heating, easy to clean
What We Don't Love: Space around appliance (including the top) gets really hot, very large footprint, has a learning curve
Need an efficient microwave that has a large interior size and high-tech features? Then the Toshiba Convection Microwave Oven is a must-have.
This 1000-watt microwave is perfect for people who want the option to cook their food regularly and use it as a traditional oven. It comes in stainless steel, which makes it easy to clean, and has a smart sensor that cooks pre-programmed foods like pizza and vegetables effectively. What’s even better are its automatic features like auto bake and auto roast (up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit) and the ability to mute the buzzer of the microwave entirely.
The modern, sleek stainless steel exterior, which makes the microwave both a looker and easy to clean, is not to shabby, either.
Price at time of publish: $236
Dimensions (LxWxH): 22.4 x 21.8 x 12.8 inches | Capacity: 1.5 cubic feet | Power: 1000 watts
Related: The Best Over-the-Range Microwaves
Farberware FMO11AHTBKB Stainless Steel Countertop Microwave Oven
What We Love: Powerful and heats quickly, spacious, great at defrosting frozen food and large portions of meat, easy to clean
What We Don't Love: Noisy when in use, interior is not well-lit
Need a spacious countertop microwave with a nice design, a spacious interior, 10 power levels, and four color options? Then this Farberware microwave can provide you with everything you need.
This 1000-watt full-size microwave is almost 37 pounds and has an interior capacity of 1.1 cubic feet. The appliance is perfect for people who need a large interior for big plates or cookware. Inside, you’ll find a 12.5-inch glass turntable that can handle any dinner plate. This microwave comes with a child safety lock, six one-touch cooking programs, and a sleek LED display. Plus, you can defrost by either time or weight, and there's even a Memory function that can store previously used cooking settings.
Price at time of publish: $85
Dimensions (LxWxH): 20.2 x 16.5 x 12 inches | Capacity: 1.1 cubic feet | Power: 1000 watts
Related: The Best Toaster Ovens
If you’re looking for a simple microwave that is inexpensive and relatively compact, but still powerful enough to heat quickly and evenly, then the Panasonic 1200-Watt Countertop Microwave, which comes with inverter technology, is for you. If you need a quality appliance with all the necessary features, but on a budget, then the Danby Countertop Microwave is another great option.
What to Look for When Buying a Countertop Microwave
People living in smaller spaces might find that they need to purchase a less powerful countertop microwave, while those with larger spaces can opt for a larger one with more features. The length, width, and depth depend on the brand and style. If you know that you’ll spend a lot of time using your microwave, then the interior size will also matter because your microwave will be only as good as what you can fit in it when feeding yourself or your family.
Simply put, a high-wattage countertop microwave will cook your food faster. This doesn’t mean that a low-wattage microwave is inferior; it will just take longer to cook your food. Most microwaves on the market will range from about 600 to 1,200 watts. Some of the smaller microwaves will have lower wattage, so it is important to look at the specifications if a higher wattage is desired.
First-time owners of a countertop microwave should opt for a no-frills microwave to keep down the cost and for practicality. All basic microwaves should have the ability to reheat, defrost, and set the power level. If you’re looking for something more high-tech, then sensor cooking, removable racks, convection, and grilling are a few features to look for in more expensive countertop microwaves.
How do you clean a microwave?
Using a solution of warm citrus and water or vinegar and water can clean a microwave in a pinch. What helps even more is cleaning your microwave regularly to keep it functioning well over time.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
As a professional trained in research and an amateur baker, Robin Mosley understands the importance of choosing the right kitchen appliances. She is always researching and testing the latest kitchen appliances, utensils, and products as a food writer and recommending them to interested food aficionados.
This piece was updated by Fran Sales, our associate commerce editor, who's also happened to master the art of cooking mug desserts of all sorts in the microwave.
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